Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival celebrates the area’s art, history, culture and people through live theatre, music, workshops and more.
DTES Heart of the City Festival
The annual Heart of the City Festival shares traditions, art forms and stories about Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Local organizations partner with the Festival and help organize events such as readings, musical performances, galleries, talks and celebrations.
2020 was a year of struggles and problems worldwide, with issues impacting Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside especially hard. The community was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, need for physical distancing, systemic racism, homelessness, the opioid crisis and other challenges. Appropriately, to reflect this and to help, this past year’s theme was “This Gives Us Strength,” which was something that all of us needed!
The festival is presented by the Vancouver Moving Theatre in partnership with the Association of United Ukrainian Canadians and the Carnegie Community Centre.
Festival Dates and Locations
In 2020, the festival ran from Wednesday, October 28th, to Sunday, November 8th. Events are typically held throughout Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This past year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, most (but not all) activities happened online.
2021 festival dates and details are to be confirmed, but continue reading for more information from previous years.
During years when there isn’t a global pandemic, multiple events take place each day, many of which are free or by donation. Events include music, theatre, poetry, film, dance, multimedia, visual arts, cultural sharing, history walks, workshops and panel discussions.
The 2020 Festival featured more than fifty events. Blues Hall of Fame singer Dalannah Gail Bowen performed. Singer and Artist-in-Residence Khari McClelland curated an online music presentation, and Indigenous actor Jenifer Brousseau hosted an online series of readings of heroic stories for youth. The Sandy Cameron Memorial Writing Contest also took place during the festival.
Some of the most exciting events that were scheduled for 2020 included the following:
Tribute to Carnegie’s 40th Anniversary
- Wednesday, October 28th, at 7:30 pm
- A tribute to a community centre at the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
- An event featuring special guest Libby Davies.
- Interactive live stream with pre-recorded segments.
How to use the Political Structure to Make Change
- Thursday, October 29th, at 11:00 am
- A workshop with local politician Libby Davies
- Interactive live stream with a maximum of 15 participants.
The Art of Water Sleeves
- Thursday, October 29th, from 2:00 pm until 3:30 pm
- A virtual opera party presented by Vancouver Cantonese Opera.
- Interactive live stream
Looking Back & The Returning Journey
- Thursday, October 29th, at 7:00 pm
- An evening of music and poetry with a Blues Hall of Fame musician Dalannah Gail Bowen.
- Presented online and followed by an interactive question and answer period with the Blues musician.
Grounds for Goodness Downtown Eastside: Adventures in Digital Community Art Making
- Friday, October 30th, to Thursday, November 12th
- Multiple online events featuring a variety of artists.
- Interactive livestream and Downtown Eastside window displays
Survivors Totem Pole
- Friday, October 30th, at 7:00 pm
- A film about the story behind a totem pole in Pigeon Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
- Presented online and followed by an interactive question and answer period with Sussane and Skundaal
Spotlight on the East End
- Friday, October 30th, at 8:30pm
- A pre-recorded event featuring musicians Khari W. McClelland, Rup Sidhu, Hannah Walker, Shon Wong and Geoff Berner.
- Presented online
DTES Front & Centre Showcase: All Together Now!
- Saturday, October 31st, at 7:00 pm
- Songs and stories by a variety of local performers.
- Presented online
We the Same
- Monday, November 2nd, at 8:00 pm
- A reading about a new play about a woman and her children escaping from Vietnam in 1979.
- Presented online and followed by an interactive question and answer period with the artistic team.
My Art is Activism, Part II
- Tuesday, November 3rd, at 3:00 pm
- A presentation of video journalism by Sid Chow Tan.
- Presented online and followed by an interactive question and answer period with the video producer.
In the Beginning
- Wednesday, November 4th, and Thursday, November 5th, at 7:30 pm; Friday, November 6th, at 8:00 pm; and Saturday, November 7th, at 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm.
- A series of events featuring the history and stories of local Indigenous people.
- Live events at the Firehall Arts Centre.
- Cost: $20 per ticket
For more details regarding each event, visit the Heart of the City Festival website.
About the Festival
The DTES Heart of the City Festival is presented by the Vancouver Moving Theatre. In a typical year the event includes 100 or more events at as many as forty or so different locations.
Vancouver Moving Theatre is a community-engaged arts organization that is based in the city’s Downtown Eastside. It creates original productions including Bah Humbug! which was an annual Christmas play that raised funds for the DTES Heart of the City Festival up until 2019.
The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, rich in culture and heritage, and the historic heart of the city.
For the most up-to-date information regarding the DTES festival see the Heart of the City Festival website.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver Festivals & Events
- Shows & Entertainment Calendar
- Vancouver History and Culture
- Vancouver on a Budget